By Ken Silva pastor-teacher on Nov 22, 2008 in AM Missives, Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism, Current Issues, Dallas Willard, Features, New Spirituality, Richard Foster, Spiritual Formation, Youth Ministry
They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans. (Isaiah 2:6)
“But Don’t Go Confusing Me With The Facts; I’ve Already Made Up My Mind!”
Apprising Ministries, in the time we have left, will continue alerting the Body of Christ to the dangers of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) with its chief practice Contemplative/Centering Prayer (CCP) currently invading our Lord’s Church through a spurious Spiritual Formation (SF) advanced by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic “Roshi” Richard Foster with a scholastic spin from his spiritual twin ordained Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard. For more I will refer you to Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism As Methodology For Spiritual Formation.
In approaching this subject factually in the same way as one who is building a court case it’s simply beyond any shadow of a doubt that this contemplative spirituality aka spiritual formation of Foster/Willard actually originated with people in the East often called “the desert fathers and mothers.” And in order to establish this as a fact beyond dispute one need only peruse, as I have, the multitudinous references to these Eastern hermits within the vast amount of literature currently flooding the evangelical market in support of this decidedly non-Protestant approach to prayer.
Unless you are not at all familiar with the Emerging Church movement you will also have at the very least heard of Brian McLaren, one of the leading theologian/spokesmen for the Emergent Church. As of this writing his latest book is entitled Finding Our Way Again: The Return of Ancient Practices, which concerns the practices of CSM. A while back on his website McLaren answered a reader’s question concerning the subject of McLaren’s own writings in the field of so-called Christian mystics:
In some of my readings, both of books authored by you and others, I have read about Christian mystics. Who are the predominant Christian mystic authors?
Answer: If you pick up Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and his other work via Renovare, you’ll get a great exposure to the Christian mystical tradition. “The Spiritual Formation Workbook” is a great resource too. Tony Jones’ “The Sacred Way” is also a sturdy introduction to contemplative practices. (Online source, emphasis added)
For our purposes here I wish you to note what I highlighted above as a recognized authority within the Emerging Church first recommends Richard Foster, whom elsewhere he calls a key mentor of the Emerging Church and then points to Emergent Church theologian Tony Jones as having written “a sturdy introduction” to the subject of CSM. Below Jones will now confirm for us from his aforementioned book, whose full title is The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, that the origin of CCP was indeed these hermits from the Eastern desert:
“Like the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers. John Cassian (c.360-c.430) came from the West and made a pilgrimage to the desert to learn the ways of contemplative prayer … Cassian was deeply influenced by his time in the desert, and he wrote his book The Conferences about his conversations with the Desert Fathers to acquaint Western Christians with their teachings. (70, emphasis mine)
Slavery To Reimagined Roman Catholic Mysticism And Repainted Quaker Mysticism
Now with this firmly documented from those personally involved with CSM we’ll turn specifically to establish the high esteem with which Richard Foster holds Thomas Merton as a proper source of authority for the contemplative spirituality at the very heart of the so-called spiritual formation taught to your pastors, not by a Protestant evangelical, but is instead an extremely ecumenical Quaker. And you need to understand that what follows from the witness I call next is not heresay; rather, it is the eywitness testimony of what he personally heard Foster say to him.
You may judge for yourself as to it’s accuracy but Christian Researcher Ray Yungen tells us:
In 1994, I had been alerted to Foster by a youth pastor friend who had read Celebration of Discipline and began to practice its contemplative methods. The youth pastor became alarmed when while repeating a phrase over and over, he began to drift into an altered state of consciousness and realized such a mystical practice was more of an eastern style method than one endorsed in Scripture.
It was after this that I attended a local seminar where Richard Foster was speaking. At the end of the meeting, I approached him. Wanting to know more about Foster’s beliefs, I asked, “What do you think about the current contemplative prayer movement?” Foster emphatically told me, “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people!” (Online source)
Now it should appear obvious that Foster accepts Merton, a Roman Catholic priest, as a genuine Christian teacher whom God used to try and “awaken God’s people.” The question you should now focus upon would be: What is it Foster thinks God was allegedly using this Roman Catholic priest to try and awaken His people to? It’s Foster’s contention that it was contemplative prayer/contemplative spirituality; and, when one considers these are practices largely gleaned from figures of the Counter Revolution it should give “Protestant” evangelicals serious pause for further conscious contemplation.
The following is from the introduction to a teaching by Thomas Merton called What Is Contemplation? On page 17 of the Renovare book Spiritual Classics edited by Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin we read:
Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood… During his college years he was deeply attracted to Christian belief and became a Roman Catholic (1938) and later a Cistercian (Trappist) monk (1941)… His interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion. Zen masters from Asia regarded him as the preeminent authority on their kind of prayer in the United States…
Merton’s reputation [is] as a gifted teacher and practitioner of prayer. Do not be concerned as you read the following selection on contemplation, about making precise definitions of “meditation” and “contemplation.” Recognize that different teachers and writers define these terms in different ways… Notice how [Merton] emphasizes the normal, natural quality of contemplative prayer. (Online source)
Now let’s make sure we are clear on a few things above: 1) Richard Foster is “Founder and Chair” of Renovare (Online source); 2) he was personally involved in what you just read, and as such, 3) Foster considers this teaching by Thomas Merton, an apostate (at best) Roman Catholic monk, to be a “spiritual classic.” We also can see 4) Thomas Merton is said by Foster to be one who, as a gifted teacher, made the life and practice of Contemplative/Centering Prayer “known and understood.”
In other words, according to Richard Foster when Thomas Merton speaks on the subject of CCP we should listen and learn from one whom even “Zen masters from Asia” regarded as “the preeminent authority” on this “contemplative prayer.” And as one studies this CCP we then find that it is a wordless form of “prayer” in silent contemplation aka meditation, which also just happens to be the “kind of prayer” practiced by those masters of Eastern Zen Buddhism. If time and funding permit, as this investigation into the murky mysticism of the current craze of contemplative spirituality within the visible church of Jesus Christ moves forward we’ll talk more about the goals and practices of contemplative aka centering prayer itself.
But in closing this for now, the following by Dr. Gary Gilley from his accessive, but scholarly, five part series Mysticism will prove helpful placing what I see growing as The Cult of Guru Richard Foster into a proper Protestant perspective. Concerning Foster’s textbook of contemplation Celebration of Discipline and our subject of Foster being rooted in the teachings of Thomas Merton I say Gilley is dead on target when he writes:
Medieval mysticism has managed to survive within small pockets of Roman Catholicism for centuries but has gone largely unnoticed by evangelicals. It is true that a few groups, such as the Quakers, have always kept some aspect of mysticism within range of evangelical awareness, and elements of mystical practices have actually thrived in charismatic circles right down to the ranks of Fundamentalism. But classical mysticism was virtually unknown in Evangelical circles until 1978 when Quaker minister Richard J. Foster published Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth. Hailed by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the twentieth century and voted by the readers of that magazine as the third most influential book after the Bible, Celebration of Discipline has blown the doors off evangelicals’ understanding of spirituality.
What Foster has done, in essence, is reintroduce to the church the so-called “masters of the interior life” as he likes to call the Medieval mystics. He declares that they alone have discovered the key to true spiritual life and slowly, over the last few years, convinced multitudes that he is right. It seems to me that Foster’s recipe for Christian living has been simmering in the pot for over two decades but as of late has caught fire…
Celebration of Discipline alone, not even referencing Foster’s other writings and teachings and ministries, is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error. We would be hard pressed to find in one so-called evangelical volume such a composite of false teaching. These include faulty views on the subjective leading of God (pp. 10, 16-17, 18, 50, 95, 98, 108-109, 128, 139-140, 149-150, 162, 167, 182); approval of New Age teachers (see Thomas Merton below); occultic use of imagination (pp. 25-26, 40-43, 163, 198); open theism (p. 35); misunderstanding of the will of God in prayer (p. 37); promotion of visions, revelations and charismatic gifts (pp. 108, 165, 168-169, 171, 193); endorsement of rosary and prayer wheel use (p. 64); misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law for today (pp. 82, 87); mystical journaling (p. 108); embracing pop-psychology (pp. 113-120); promoting Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” confession and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185); and affirming of aberrant charismatic practices (pp. 158-174, 198).
However, all of these are minor in comparison to the two main thrusts of Foster’s book and ministry…but first [meet one] of Foster’s mystical champions…
Foster cites and/or quotes Merton on at least nine separate occasions in Celebration of Discipline, yet Merton was not a Christian as far as we can tell. He was a twentieth-century Roman Catholic who had so immersed himself in Buddhism that he claimed he saw no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity and intended to become as good a Buddhist as he could. But despite his doctrinal views and New Age leanings Foster considers Merton’s Contemplative Prayer, “A must book,” and says of Merton, “[He] has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” Merton wrote, “If only [people] could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.” (Online source)